Research examining gun violence, and the funding to support it, significantly lags behind what would typically be expected for a major cause of death, according to a new study.
The amount of research on gun violence published between 2004 and 2014 was only 4.5 percent of what would be expected for a cause of death that kills more than 30,000 people in the United States each year, researchers say.
And the funding for that research was only 1.6 percent of what would be expected.
Compared to other leading causes of death, gun violence is "simply not being investigated in the same way," said lead author Dr. David Stark, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Stark and his co-author Nigam Shah, of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, write in JAMA that a 1996 U.S. law banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using federal funding for injury prevention and control "to advocate or promote gun control."
The stipulation and other restrictions soon spread beyond the CDC to other agencies and the research community, they add.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed data on published medical research and funding between 2004 and 2014 to see if the results for gun violence were in line with other major causes of death.
In both cases, research and research funding for gun violence was less than predicted, compared to other causes of death
Based on research and funding for the other top 30 major causes of death, as listed by the CDC, the researchers estimated $1.4 billion should have been spent on gun violence research over that decade, instead of the $22 million that was actually spent.
Gun violence should have also been the subject of an estimated 38,897 studies during that time, but only 1,738 were published.
The researchers say gun violence is on par with sepsis, a complication from infections, in number of deaths caused. Researchers investigating gun violence received less than 1 percent of the funding spent on sepsis, however. Likewise, the amount of published research on gun violence was only 4 percent of the volume for sepsis.
The study can't prove the lack of funding or research on gun violence is due to the 1996 law, Stark told Reuters Health.
"Gun violence, which kills about 33,000 people per year, is a public health issue," he said. "It's no different than automobile accidents."
Deaths due to automobile accidents have dropped thanks to research and the resulting interventions, such as car seats, seat belts and road barriers, he said.
"It's important that people realize that research is an essential endeavor to not just learn more but to develop sensible policies and interventions in the real world," said Stark. "Obtaining the data is really the first step."